by Chantelle Zakariasen
Winter is a challenging time, it can be met with grace and acceptance but more often it’s met with resistance and resentment. Who are you Nature to take our sunshine away? We realize the importance of the almighty sun, how blissful it is when it warms us and meets our skin. Winter is a massive practice in patience, especially for those of us who work indoors and don’t get outside as much as we’d like. This is my first winter in a while in Canada’s largest northern city of Edmonton, and granted its been mild but it’s still dark and shocking when the bitter cold does hit and I realize I really should’ve bought winter boots. The winter blues get to me here, there are days when I would love nothing more than to stay in bed, eat waffles and watch game of thrones all the while wishing I lived in Ecuador.
Alas, lounging in bed all day doesn’t fit my schedule. So I have various strategies that I use to cope with the winter blues and the accompanying energy drain. I know many people who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which is a far more intense experience and I don’t presume to know the best path to overcoming something so debilitating. But here are my tips for dealing with winter and opening up to those sparkly snow flakes with grace and acceptance.
The sunshine vitamin is something many of us take for granted when it’s abundant. It’s the only vitamin that our bodies assimilate from the sun through our skin. It’s also been shown many times over that a high percentage of people are deficient and could use a supplemental boost in winter time when the sun is hidden away. In the US 41.6% of people are vitamin D deficient [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21310306] and since other studies have also shown vitamin D is crucial in fighting off depression [https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201307/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-depression]. It’s a good idea to integrate it into your daily routine or step outside for 20 minutes when the sun is shining.
Movement and Music
When we’re feeling down it can be exceptionally hard to find the motivation to exercise. Even though I know that it’s going to make me feel good, I still drag my ass when it’s time to get up and move. The hard facts don’t lie, movement is majorly therapeutic, and if you move intensely enough to break a sweat, your body starts to release all sorts of feel good hormones. Exercise reduces stress [http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/benefits-of-exercisereduces-stress-anxiety-and-helps-fight-depression] and so does music [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21767754], so why not put two and two together. Crank the tunes, stand up, ignore the monkey mind that wants nothing more than for you to collapse into a heap on the floor and smother your life in ranch dip.
Greens and Living Foods
Another tendency when it’s dark and dreary out is to reach for the junk food. We want warmth and comfort and typically that doesn’t equate to arugula and tomatoes. There’s nothing wrong with fulfilling ones desire for comfort foods, just remember to keep it balanced. Try and add in as much nutrient dense fruits and vegetables as possible. This doesn’t have to be a painful task, even just stuffing a handful of spinach, berries and a banana in a blender with breakfast is better than nothing.
Dark leafy greens are loaded with magnesium, another mineral that we’re commonly deficient in [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22364157]. Magnesium is relaxing, it’s soothing, and it’s important for regulating the nervous system. Raw foods are also loaded with enzymes that will help improve digestion and take the burden off our overworked organs [http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/08/21/enzymes-special-report.aspx].
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I can’t stress this one enough because over everything omega-3’s have made the most profound difference in my own life when it comes to mood regulation and reducing inflammation [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110713121313.htm] . Where do we get an abundance of omega-3’s? Not very many places aside from fatty cold water fish. Sorry to say but we’re not getting the brain healing DHA component of omega-3’s from plants alone, unless we supplement with micro algae [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docosahexaenoic_acid].
If you don’t eat fish at least 3 times per week, then it’s a good idea to start supplementing. I’m all for getting nutrients from a wholesome real food diet but realism is included in that, and many of us just don’t eat that much fish. My favourite way of getting more omega-3 is krill oil, it’s so low on the food chain that it doesn’t bio accumulate toxins like bigger fish do. It also contains a natural antioxidant compound which helps retain freshness and increase shelf life.
Sleep and Meditation
Take a cue from the animals, winter is a time for extra slumber. Our ancestors would’ve gone to bed with the sun on these short days. It’s a time to restore our bodies and prepare for the busy spring ahead. Don’t feel guilty for getting extra sleep, it’s biologically programmed in us to do so.
Meditation is particularly helpful in fending off the blues. Mindfulness in general can help us to calm and restore our nervous systems and recalibrate the part of our mind that never shuts up [https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm]. If meditation seems difficult at first, try practicing yoga nidra, a form of guided meditation that helps to relax the body and bring the mind to an incredibly relaxed state. There are lots of nice guided meditations and yoga nidra practices out there for free and there’s no better time to start than now.
Reflection and Journaling
This time of stillness is naturally good for reflection and goal setting for the year ahead. No wonder resolutions coincide with New Year, the energy of winter is all about looking within, seeing where we’ve faltered, asking ourselves how we can do better next time and planning to make it happen.
My favourite way of processing emotions and experiences is through writing uncensored in a private journal. Just letting it pour out is so therapeutic and allows any pent up energy to just release onto the pages. There’s also science behind journalling showing that it does help to reduce stress and anxiety. [http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1217&context=honors]
Fresh Air and Star Gazing
Winter can be isolating, it’s easy to feel lonely when we don’t go outside to frogs croaking and birds chirping. Many of us hibernate in our dwellings and avoid the cold air altogether. Our windows are closed, the heaters are on, and the air and energy becomes stagnant rather quickly. Bundling up and taking a moment to step outside when you feel the blues creeping up is really helpful. Taking deep breaths and really replenishing our bodies with an abundance of oxygen is energizing.
Step outside at night and look up at the stars, remember that as lonely as winter feels, there is a great big universe of opportunity and mystery out there. Find the stillness and relish in it, for soon spring will come again. As Hal Borland states so eloquently “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”
By: Chantelle Zakariasen
Bio: Chantelle is purposefully driven to help people live more fulfilling lives. She’s a food lover, nature and travel junky and writes the blog naked cuisine where she transforms crap foods into magical health bombs. She’s also a freelance writer and copywriter for health and wellness practitioners and helps them hone in on their most authentic nitty gritty message. On the side she longs to understand what’s going on in her toddlers brain and puts balsamic reduction on almost everything. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!
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